Traveling and Camping in Bear Country: Dos and Don’ts
By Caitlin Kauffman2 Min. Read
If you’re anything like us, by spring you are sick with cabin fever and ready to get out into the backcountry. However, just as flowers and leaves emerge in spring, so do bears. They too have been holed up all winter and when they wake up, they are hungry.
If you’re planning on camping in bear country, there are a number of things you can do to keep both you and the bears safe.
Your Car Is Not a Fortress, Use Bear Boxes
If you’ve ever visited Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks you’ll recognize the squat, metal bear boxes. They are proven to be bear-proof, and will keep your food and other smellables neatly contained, unlike your car, which can be easily broken into by a resourceful bear. Anything that’s come into contact with food including your stoves, water bottles, plates and utensils (clean or not), pet food and toiletries need to be packed in a bear box.
No “Smell Pretties” in the Tent
“Smell pretties” are products we humans use to keep us from smelling like the bears. Deodorant, toothpaste, lotion, chapstick, sunscreen, bug spray, etc. all have to be removed from your tent, your pockets and your backpack and stashed in a bear box before you pass out after a long day of rafting and hiking. Our bodies smell just fine as they are and are actually quite unappetizing to a bear. It’s actually our artificial fragrances and food that attract them.
“Hey, Bear!” and Other Ways to Annoy Your Friends
Bears hate surprises. While hiking in bear country it’s best to make lots of noise; talk loudly, sing loudly and clap your hands or give a “Hey, Bear!” at regular intervals. Bears will leave you alone if they hear you coming; they don’t enjoy your warbly rendition of “American Pie” any more than your companions.
A Ready Spray Keeps the Bear at Bay
Bear spray is a non-negotiable accessory in Grizzly country. The non-toxic, non-lethal spray has been proven very effective during bear attacks, temporarily affecting the bear’s breathing and eyesight. Don’t bury this item at the bottom of your pack! It should always be readily available, strapped to the waistband of your pack or lying at the head of your sleeping pad when traveling in Wyoming and Montana.
We can’t stress enough how important it is to keep human food out of bears’ reach. Bears accustomed to eating our food can quickly become aggressive and dangerous, forcing the Park Service to relocate or even kill them for visitor safety. Most bear encounters are because of carelessness, not aggression. Though intimidating, bears are a vital part of the ecosystem; these protocols help maintain a neighborly relationship with bears.